The artisans at Kirtz' Shutter Mill don't look like greenhorns. Maybe they'd like some young blood to help with the backlog?
Warm Welcomes to: Readers from the Education Wonk CoE and Joanne Jacobs and I Speak of Dreams.
I'm not sure this stuff is related, but I see two forces at work on young people and their futures. After almost two decades on the planet, many current teens are infantilized, almost hopeless in life skills, and constantly calling mommy and daddy. Many are deciding (or being pushed into) their futures with a strange bias toward higher education as long as it doesn't mean learning anything, and a bias against lucrative careers with a physical component. There are lots of kids who aren't considering college for any practical or intellectual purpose, but merely because it's what decent people do and it's what their parents will pay for. Deal with college conceptually as optional or as other than a status bullet for the CV and you'll get static.
I've been thinking about it since Cathy Seipp's been posting about the outrage from the parents of future collegians for her support of her own daughter's early graduation and acceptance to college. Maia's been learning Russian and reads a lot, but she's not sporty or booked-up with extracurricular falderol- gasp- how underutilized! From reading Maia's blog, she seems to me like the kind of bright, together young woman that belongs in college and/or the world at large anytime she wants. She seems to be pragmatically concerned with what she can learn, and I don't doubt she'll find a way to apply it and keep progressing. So why the histrionic puffing from other parents?
Well, methinks it could partly be the horrific gear-and-advice crowd who've made modern parenting look to me like the least natural, most stressful, joyless ride I could imagine. No wonder birth rates among the "civilized" are down. There's very little relaxing and enjoying, lots of protecting and "optimizing" of children who outsiders can see frankly as occupying the big, broad part of the bell curve. Nevertheless, parents are expected to have lives heaped with costly, specialized equipment and the nimbleness to leap aboard the latest bandwagon of Miracle-Gro developmental theorizing. And if someone busts out of the current groupthink, choosing something quite specifically different, the latent insecurities and defensiveness rise up to get the offender back in line.
I say let college study actually create exceptional knowledge in some area, not rubber-stamped pop culture analyses while B.A. students remain clueless about the developments of civilization and science that got us here. Latin, Greek, de Toqueville, Hadrian or Socrates, the dynasties of China, geography, anthropology, the history of art or poetry or drama, politics, Cromwell or The Reformation, literature before 1960, classic economics, enough science to dunce-check a CSI episode- you name it, they don't know it. And neither they nor their parents feel the least ashamed about their lack of curiosity about anything great enough to be intimidating at first. These people don't need universities except for social networking and the adoption of a color scheme and logo.
Unfortunately, the prevailing wisdom is "college, no matter what," and the result has been a dumbing-down of college as it's filled up with people who probably don't belong there and whose professors are overtly discouraged from providing challenging material that could temporaily create unhappy-face grades. So, we get 50,000 surplus Communications majors and way more pre-lawyers than a healthy society ought. However, if we had a functioning educational system through high school, which some places manage and we used to do, high school grads would have enough literacy and computational functionality as well as general and operational knowledge of the world they inhabit to evaluate whether more academia suits them. Then, the less bookish or less quanty types could respectably head into programs of apprenticeship or vocational education that would actually fill needs that we currently have in spades. Like nurses, carpenters, auto repair techs, electricians, plumbers, tailors, and many other types of advanced craftsmanship requiring physical skills.
There will be heavy construction in the Southeast U.S. for decades, creating all kinds of opportunity from chaos for those who can turn the mess back into something usable. Other physical labor-based industries like dog grooming are growing, too, and there's plenty of room for people to build good lives for themselves with their own hands. So what's with the modern disdain for such necessary, wonderful work which currently commands nice earnings? Beautiful, artisanal skills are being lost because there's no one to learn them. Have you tried to find a stone carver recently? It's still in demand, but there's no supply. Within the context of the striking French students, Theodore Dalrymple notes the same phenomenon in Europe:
There are of course deeper but intangible problems that are even more difficult to solve than the inflexibility of the labour market. If you speak to small businessmen in France, they will tell you that the young in any case do not want to do the kind of work of which there is no shortage. At a time of such high unemployment, artisans have no one willing to be trained by them, even if they are willing to take the risk by taking them on. This is even though such artisans are so overwhelmed by work that a carpenter, for example, is booked up for more than a year in advance and can charge almost anything he likes.
Part of the reason I've been wanting to do the graphic novel is the joy of physical craftsmanship, in this case, draftsmanship. The weisenheimers should go to university and work hard, and if they can't impress or outthink a yutz like me, they ought to be chained to a library table or workstation until they can. And each one of them should know that a life built around physical engagement is nothing to look down one's florescent-tanned nose at. We should rejuvenate tangible standards in higher ed, resuscitate our trade schools and journeyman credentials, and renew our respect for each's unique contributions.